Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Talents

 This is the sermon I preached on Sunday, Nov. 19 at St. Timothy Lutheran Church. The text is Matthew 25:14-30.



Let’s look at the cultural context of our gospel. First, what is a talent? Doesn’t talent mean that someone can sing or dance or do stand-up comedy well? In Jesus’ time, a talent was not an ability, but rather a very large sum of money—between 75–96 pounds of silver. One talent was equal to 15 years of a laborer’s wages. Five talents would be more than a lifetime’s wages.         

 

Not all disciples have the same amount of responsibility, as we see in this parable of the slaves. They were all given talents “according to their ability” (v. 15). As God’s children, we are obligated to participate in God’s mission “according to [our] ability” (v. 15).

 

The master called his slaves and “delivered over” or “gave over” his possessions to them. That’s the meaning in Greek of the word translated as “entrusted.” It seems to imply “giving up control of.” The talents became the property of the slaves.

 

Most of the slaves went and made more talents. They had taken the risk of obedience and faithfulness and were successful. The master praised them as “good and faithful.” This is a stance of “active responsibility that takes initiative and risk” (Boring). The master rewards the faithful slaves with his joy, changing the relationship with them to one of equals. 

 

What does it mean to us to “enter into your master’s joy” (vv. 21, 23)? Joy comes as the result of what God has done in sending Jesus: speaking the Word, the coming of the kingdom, saving the lost and the resurrection—in other words, the gospel—the good news of what God has done in Jesus Christ. We may understand the “talents” as the gospel—the great treasure God has given the church. If, like the third slave, we try to protect it, or save it only for ourselves, we risk losing it (Stoffregen).

 

The first two slaves are “foils against which to compare the third servant, whose actions are unique, whose speech is unique…, and whose condemnation by the master serves as the climax of the story” (Mark Douglas).

 

The third slave accused the master of harvesting from someone else’s field, which sounds scandalous, doesn’t it? He had no basis for his description of the actions of the master. In insulting his master, he blamed the master’s perceived harsh character for his own failure to increase his talent. If anything, the master was very generous. He placed great wealth at the disposal of all the slaves, including this one.

 

However, the master deemed this slave to be wicked and lazy (v. 26). The unfaithful slave failed to use his gifts faithfully, but his failure to see the gifts as precious and, most importantly, his failure to know his master was the worst. The motivation of this slave was fear. That was his problem. Because he saw the master as an immoral taskmaster to be feared; the master became exactly what the slave imagined him to be. This parable warns us against fear that “the God we face is the one we imagine” (Douglas). If we imagine fear, we will receive fear. If we imagine grace, then grace is what we will receive.

 

Did you hear what was different about the slaves’ response to their master’s return? The first two were confident, showing the master what they had done. Before showing the master anything, the third slave declared the master to be harsh. Therefore, he was afraid, burying his one talent. Fear had paralyzed this slave from stepping out and taking some risk. 

 

The master does not judge on the basis of outward appearances, but on the basis of their relationship to or their perception of him. He gave no clear instructions of what to do during his long absence, so faithfulness was not merely obedience to directions. 

 

Who do we identify with in this gospel passage? We are the slaves, but in which one do we recognize ourselves? How will we use our time and God’s generosity while waiting for Christ’s return? We might ask ourselves about the attitude that characterizes our relationship with God. Do I dread God’s wrath, or do I have confidence in God’s mercy? Am I able to follow Luther’s advice to “Sin boldly, but believe even more boldly still?”

 

This story is a parable of the graciousness and generosity of the master and our response to that. Even the slave that received only one talent received a lot of money. 

 

This is also a disturbing story about what Christians do or don’t do with the gospel as they wait for the coming of the kingdom of heaven (Long). What would life be like if we were as concerned about increasing the spread of the gospel of God’s grace, as we are about increasing the return on our financial investments? 

 

Jesus is a completely different kind of master and lord, offering hope to those who fail.

Being a follower of Jesus is all about relationship-our relationship with God, our relationship with each other and our relationship with our community. Fear paralyzes God’s children and warps their view of who God is. One who is not a child of God should be afraid because a day of judgment is coming. As negative and depressing as that may sound, it means justice will be meted out. 

  

Advent will soon be upon us. Emanuel, God with us, came in the flesh to always be with and for us. This Advent and Christmas season, let us check our assumptions of Jesus against the image and promise of the Christ child. It may take time and may be difficult, but let us allow our images of God to be reshaped and reformed. May we realize that God meant it when God called us. Then we can fearlessly proclaim to all the world that God is a God of love, who entrusts us with great gifts and riches, who is eager for us to make the most of them and is always inviting us to enter the joy of our Lord (Lose). 

 

Amen.

 

Resources

Eugene Boring, Matthew, New Interpreter’s Bible

Mark Douglas, Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 4: Season after Pentecost 2.

Douglas Hare, Interpretation: Matthew, p. 287.

Thomas G. Long, Matthew, Westminster Bible Companion.

John Petty, progressiveinvolvement.com.

Brian Stoffregen, crossmarks.com/brian.

sundaysandseasons.com.

 

 




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